Becky Manning found a colorfully wrapped box topped with a red bow. Forgetting about what she was searching for in the closet, she retrieved the box and read the tag – To Sarah, From Becky. A tear rolled down her cheek. She’d forgotten all about last year’s Christmas gift. Unfortunatley, certain circumstances prevented her from giving it to her sister. The biggest one was Sarah’s passing.
Becky spun around, nearly dropping the box. Her fourteen-year-old brother stood beside her bed.
“What are you doing here?”
“Mom wants us all in the living room.”
Becky sighed and stepped out of the closet. She placed the box on her desk and faced her brother.
“What does she want?”
Jared shrugged, more interested in the package than the errand he was directed to run. “What’s that?”
Jared read the name. “Why did you get a present for Sarah? She’s dead.”
Her eyes shimmered with tears. She buried her face in her hands. Jared stood awkwardly, unsure of what to do.
“Becky? I . . . I’m sorry.” He patted her shoulder, relieved when her tears subsided.
Becky sniffed and looked at her brother. “It’s okay, Jared. I just miss her.”
“Me, too. Is that why you got her a gift?”
Becky laughed. “Actually, I got her this last year, but she never got a chance to open it.” Jared nodded. Becky put an arm around him. “Let’s go see what Mom wants.”
Upon entering the living room, Becky halted in mid-stride, as anger surfaced. She placed both hands on her hips and demanded, “What’s going on?”
“What does it look like?” her father retorted, as he untangled a large strand of Christmas lights. “We’re putting up the Christmas decorations.”
Her mother glanced at Becky and furrowed her brows. “Are you all right, dear?”
“No, I’m not all right.”
“Well, this will cheer you up. Christmas is in three weeks. Normally, we’d have the decorations up sooner, but we’ve all been busy.”
“It was because of Sarah that we had the decorations up sooner.”
Becky’s mother laughed. “That’s right. Well, we’re doing it now so join the fun.”
Daniel helped their father with the lights. He’s a year older than Becky and a senior in high school. Jared went to work looking for ornaments, and Timmy, the youngest, took care of the garland. Becky watched the display and seethed with anger. No one cared that her little sister couldn’t participate in the activities. They all acted as if she never even existed. Watching the camaraderie became too much for her. She bolted out of the room like a shot and slammed her bedroom door. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without Sarah.
Becky had always longed for a sister. Jared was born when she was two, and Timmy came two years after that. When her mother told her she was expecting again, Becky prayed for a sister and was blessed with Sarah. Becky was six years old, but she doted on Sarah as if she were a doll. She absolutely adored Sarah.
At eight years old, Sarah was diagnosed with leukemia. Becky’s world plummeted. However, she kept the faith that her little sister would recover. It was a miracle when Sarah went into remission the following summer just before her ninth birthday. The whole family felt extremely blessed that their prayers had been answered. Unfortunately, their happiness was short-lived, when two months later Sarah’s cancer returned.
Becky, however, kept her faith alive. She never wanted her sister to see her faith waiver. Becky encouraged Sarah to strive for life in every possible way. When Christmastime arrived and Sarah took a turn for the worse, Becky refused to believe all was lost. This was a season for miracles and her entire family desperately needed a miracle. But the miracle never came.
She stared at the ceiling with a single tear rolling down her cheek. Why did you take her from me? A sister was all I wanted, and you took her away too soon.
A knock sounded on her door. “Go away,” she said, as she rolled over to face the stark-white wall, assuming it was one of her meddling brothers.
Her mother poked her head inside. “Becky, honey, are you all right?”
“Yeah, sure,” she lied. “I’m just tired.”
“Why don’t you come help us trim the tree?”
“Because I don’t want to.”
Letting out a sigh, she continued. “Come on, Becky,” her mother coaxed, as she entered the room. “You can’t hole yourself in here for the entire holiday.”
Silence ensued, as Becky’s mind whirled with possible rebuttals to keep from being dragged to the festivities downstairs. She heard the click of her door being shut and turned. Her mother had left. Becky sighed with relief.
* * * * * *
The next few days left Becky feeling horrible. People were excitably celebrating the Christmas season. The festivities were blatantly obvious everywhere she turned — even in her own home. Her younger brothers were excited about presents, treats, parties, and were even hit with the spirit of giving. Becky didn’t want to give anyone a thing, because she couldn’t get passed the heartache the season caused.
On Monday night – ten days before Christmas – she reluctantly joined her family for Family Home Evening. She curled up on the couch, allowing Timmy to rest his head against her. He may be a deacon, but he still adored his big sister. Daniel offered the prayer. Their dad had the boys choose different hymns to sing.
Becky didn’t participate, especially when Christmas songs were sung. Her parents didn’t say a word regarding her silence. They just sang along with the boys.
“Would you like to choose a song, Becky?” her mother asked.
“Come on. Join in the fun.”
“She’s being Scrooge,” Jared explained. “She hates Christmas, don’t you? Bah humbug, right?” he taunted.
“That’s enough, Jared,” their father scolded.
“It’s true. She didn’t help with the decorations. She’s not singing any of the songs. She’s a scrooge I tell you.”
Becky closed her eyes, wishing she could be anywhere but there. Tears leaked out the corners of her eyes.
“Look what you did,” Timmy said. “You made her cry.”
Becky opened her eyes. “Can I go to my room? Please?”
“No. I haven’t given the lesson yet,” her mother replied.
Their mother started the lesson which was on the birth of Christ. Becky heard this story numerous times in her young life, but today was different. Today, she didn’t feel the spirit, nor did she feel happy about the season. She felt anger toward God, who robbed her of the sister she’d always longed for and enjoyed having around since the moment she was born.
Becky rose to her feet. All eyes fell on her since it interrupted their mother’s lesson.
“Becky, sit down. I’m not through yet.”
“I’ve heard enough. I don’t know how you can be so cruel. You walk around the house so happy, celebrating a holiday that doesn’t deserve any celebration. Have you all forgotten about Sarah?”
Becky stepped back from her mother’s reach and put a hand up. Tears exploded from her eyes. “Don’t you understand? We should be remembering Sarah not celebrating Christmas. A time for miracles? Yeah right. Where was my miracle last year? Instead God took my baby sister and to make it worse, she had to die on Christmas day. That’s the cruelest thing God could ever do. Well, go on and celebrate, but leave me out of it. I’d rather remember Christmas the way it was when Sarah was alive.”
Becky stormed out of the room, flung herself on her bed, and cried herself to sleep.
* * * * * *
A fog descended on her and she couldn’t make out a thing. Tremulously, she ventured forward and saw an image approaching her. Becky paused in awe of the figure growing brighter as it got closer and closer. It was Sarah dressed in white with a brilliant light surrounding her. She took Becky’s breath away, as Sarah smiled and beckoned her to come forward. They embraced, as tears were shed on Becky’s part.
“I’ve missed you so much,” Becky gushed, as she clung to her sister. “Please don’t ever leave me.”
“There’s something I must show you.”
“I’ll go anywhere you want, as long as you come back home to me.”
Sarah smiled and took her sister’s hand. “Let’s go,” she said.
In a flash, they were taken to a remote place where shepherds watched their flock. A bright light appeared above them. Becky stared in awe, as she watched the scene unfold before her as if it were a movie. She saw multitudes of angels, yet she couldn’t hear them speak. None of that mattered though. The incredible peace could be felt all around.
“This is wonderful,” Becky exclaimed. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It’s a beautiful sight,” Sarah agreed, “but there’s more to see.”
The scene dissolved before her eyes. Next thing she knew, they stood outside a stable. People gathered inside. Becky and Sarah hovered above, not a part of the event taking place before their eyes.
“I don’t believe it,” Becky said. “That’s Mary, isn’t it?”
A tear slipped out of the corner of her eye. “Let’s go, Sarah. I don’t wanna see this.”
“Because you died on his birthday. This whole season reminds me of what I lost.”
“I may not be on earth with you, but I still live on. We all come to earth for a purpose, to receive a body, and come unto Christ. My time on earth may have been short, but it served its purpose.”
Becky glared at her sister, a look of horror planted on her face. “How can you say that? We didn’t get to do all the things that we were meant to do together. I was going to teach you about makeup and clothes. I wanted to be there when you started dating and when you got married. I thought we’d raise our children close by so we could have them be the best of friends.”
Tears ran in rivulets down both cheeks. She paused to catch her breath. When she regained her composure, she continued, “But God took that all away from me.”
“Don’t you see? That wasn’t my station in life.”
“You’ll never get to experience what I have or what I will.”
Sarah squeezed Becky’s hand. “I’m not supposed to. And it’s okay. I had a great life on earth. I wouldn’t trade the family I had for a chance to return.”
“You might as well. They’ve pretty much forgotten you.”
Sarah shook her head vehemently. “No they haven’t. They miss me. But they know they’ll see me again. Mom and Dad married in the temple. We were born under that covenant. As long as we live worthily, we’ll always be together.” Sarah sounded so knowledgeable, although she appeared to be nine years old in Becky’s eyes.
“But . . . but why bring me here?”
“So you can see how important this day was in the history of the world. We celebrate His birth because He came to earth knowing His life wouldn’t last that long either. He knew He’d be ridiculed, spat upon, and shamed, yet He endured all of that for us. Because of Him and the atonement, we’ll be able to return to Heavenly Father. I don’t want you to lose sight of that because you miss me.”
“I just don’t want to forget you.”
“Find a way to keep me alive in your heart, but don’t stop living because I’m not there anymore.”
Becky glanced at Mary holding baby Jesus. Such an awe-inspiring scene. She buried her face in her hands. How could she ever express her apology? She didn’t feel worthy to do so.
“I must go,” Sarah replied.
“No, don’t leave yet. I’m not ready,” Becky pleaded. “There’s so much I want to say to you.”
“We’ll have eternity. But for now, you must live your life. Do something good with it, and stay close to Heavenly Father. He’ll always be there to guide you.”
“I will, but Sarah . . . wait.”
“Goodbye, my sister. I love you.”
“Oh, Sarah,” Becky bawled. “I love you, too.”
They embraced and then Sarah was gone. Becky sat up with a start and found herself in her own bed. A dream. It was only a dream, a dream that felt more real than anything she’d ever experienced. With a prayer in her heart and a smile on her face, she drifted back to sleep content that everything would work out after all.
* * * * * *
After reciting the dream to her parents, her mother took a tissue from the box on the end table and blew her nose. “That’s so beautiful, Becky. Thank you for sharing that with us.”
“I had to share it with you. I feel so stupid for my behavior the past few weeks.”
“Honey, I didn’t realize how hard you took Sarah’s death,” her mother replied.
“I know. I’m sorry I kept you in the dark.” Becky paused for a moment. “I . . . I want to do something in Sarah’s name for Christmas.”
“What’s that?” her father asked.
“Well . . .”
For the next half hour, they discussed at length Becky’s plan. Her parents were thrilled with the idea and asked Becky’s brothers for their assistance.
The next day, the entire family went shopping. It was a happy event that Becky would treasure. She let go of the anger she’d been harboring all Christmas season and finally felt peace settle in her heart. The spirit of Christmas was contagious, and it made her whole family giddy with excitement.
Once at home, Jared and Timmy collected all the wrapping paper and brought it in the living room. Becky placed the purchases on the floor, and they got to work wrapping presents. Becky’s mother brought out Christmas cookies and hot chocolate for everyone to munch on while they worked.
Daniel glanced out the window and laughed. “Hey, everybody. It’s snowing.”
The boys rushed to the window to see how much had accumulated on the ground. Becky smiled at her parents. It was going to be a good Christmas after all.
Becky’s parents put the wrapped gifts under the tree. After dinner, their father turned on the tree lights. They sang Christmas carols and ate cookies until it grew late. Later, Becky snuggled in her bed whispering a heartfelt prayer. She fell asleep dreaming about Sarah.
* * * * * *
After breakfast, the family carried the wrapped gifts to the van and drove to the hospital. Becky and the boys wore somber expressions, as they walked down corridors toward the right department. Becky’s father explained the situation to the head nurse, who gave them permission to drop off the presents to each child in the cancer ward.
Becky’s heart melted and an overwhelming peace cloaked her, as she saw children connected to tubes or with no hair. But even through their pain, they beamed when given their Christmas present. The boys received toy cars or trucks; the girls a doll or stuffed animal. Becky also gave the girls an extra special gift – a beautiful silver-plated hairbrush, comb and hand mirror set – just like the one she intended to give Sarah last year.
“Keep the faith,” Becky told the girls. “This hairbrush set is to help you not lose hope. Your hair will grow back and you will recover, if it’s God’s will. My sister lived a remarkable life, but God called her home. I want you all to know that we care. These gifts were given to you in memory of my sister, Sarah Manning.”
Becky’s mother embraced her with tears streaming down her face. “That was beautiful, Becky. This whole idea was beautiful.”
“Thanks, Mom. I couldn’t have done it without your help . . . or Sarah’s.”
On Christmas Eve, Becky unwrapped Sarah’s present. She set the hairbrush, comb and hand mirror on her dresser. It stood as a reminder to never take life for granted. She ran the brush through her brown hair and smiled at her reflection in the little mirror. Climbing into bed, she pondered on the year that had gone by. She remembered the struggle and all she neglected to do because of her sorrow over her sister’s death. She no longer felt sorrow, but so joyful at having had nine years with the most wonderful sister God chose to send to her.
Timmy rushed into her room what seemed to Becky merely minutes after putting her head on the pillow. “It’s Christmas,” he shouted with elation, as he bounced on her bed.
Becky opened an eye and looked at her clock on the night stand. It glowed six o’clock, and she moaned as she covered her head with her blanket.
“No, Becky. Wake up,” Timmy protested, as he shook his sister awake.
Becky moaned again and flung the blankets aside. “I’m up.”
Timmy laughed, as he hauled her out of bed, acting more like a six year old.
The rest of the family entered the family room while yawning. Timmy was apparently the only one wide awake. Becky’s father turned on the lights and offered the family prayer. Their mother distributed the presents to everyone.
Becky remembered Sarah’s reaction at the gifts she received. Her face would light up and she’d squeal with delight. Remembering it brought a smile to Becky’s face. Surprisingly, these memories no longer brought pain and sorrow, just fondness and a happy feeling of having those memories to cherish for years to come.
When all the gifts had been opened, everyone gathered at the table for breakfast. Becky brought the hymn book, flipping it open to the Christmas section. She read each title slowly and paused when she read, “With Wondering Awe.” That was it! That totally described her dream. She closed the book, holding it close to her.
Thank you, Sarah. Thank you for giving me my life back. Merry Christmas.
And it truly was a merry Christmas.